EDINBORO — The IUP Crimson Hawks got a little bit of a break Wednesday night.
After beating their three biggest rivals, Mercyhurst, Slippery Rock and Gannon in succession, the Hawks finished a three-game road swing with an 88-53 win over an undermanned and outmatched Edinboro team in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference basketball game at McComb Field House.
The break is over, though.
IUP plays at home Saturday night against California, its former biggest rival with a possible revival on tap. California is playing its best basketball in recent seasons under second-year coach Danny Sancomb. Cal is 11-5 overall and 7-3 in the PSAC with four straight wins that followed an earlier five-game winning streak.
“Cal is the most improved team in the league and has played some really good games lately, and they’re going to challenge us come Saturday,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said.
California played host to Edinboro on Saturday and won by 37 points, 108-71.
“Somebody came up to me and said Cal has a good team and they’re athletic,” IUP senior guard Malik Miller said. “But I got us against anybody.”
So far, the Hawks have met most of their challenges. IUP is 14-1, holds first place in the PSAC West at 9-1 and is ranked seventh in NCAA Division II. The Hawks have won five straight games after opening the season 9-0.
IUP is sitting in a strong position despite having to replace four starters from last years 30-3 team and the losing their instant-impact transfer, Tommy Demogerontas, a 6-foot-8 forward who was averaging double figures in points and rebounds was he was lost to a torn ACL in the fourth game of the season.
“For this team to be 14-1 after losing everybody we lost last year and having Tommy go down, I never thought we’d be 14-1 at this point,” Lombardi said.
Then he added, “Maybe this is a little bit of a wakeup call, which you need a couple times during a season.”
IUP took a 10-point lead early on Edinboro (5-9, 2-8) and held a 15-point advantage, 41-26, at halftime. The Hawks outscored the Fighting Scots 47-27 in the second half.
IUP shot 48.5 percent from the floor, led the rebounding by 16 (52-36) and committed only nine turnovers. Edinboro shot only 27.3 percent and made only three 3-point field goals. Leading scorer Anthony Coleman (18.8 points per game) did not play due to an injury.
“We’ve had lot competitive games, but this one, they’re undermanned,” Lombardi said. “First, they’re somewhat of an underdog to begin with, and their leading scorer is out. So they weren’t going to be real efficient on offense because he has ball in hands a lot.
“But I didn’t like our passion on defense in the first half. The game sets you up sometimes to coast a little bit after three emotional games, and this could have been a trap game if they’d had a full squad. Fundamentally we had too many breakdowns defensively. I’m thankful for the win and grateful that we have enough good players to win even when we’re not connected. So that’s kind of a way to look at it.”
“We started taking plays off as the game went on and gave up some easy stuff defensively,” Miller said.
Miller scored a game-high 22 points. Ethan Porterfield, a 6-8 freshman, posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Armoni Foster scored 13 points, Shawndale Jones had 11, and Dave Morris handed out six assists to go with nine points. Chucky Humphries grabbed 11 rebounds to go with seven points.
Trey Staunch and Jaryn Simpson scored 13 points apiece for Edinboro. Anthony Allen had 10.
IUP made 11 of 32 3-point attempts, but most came after the game was well in hand. IUP is shooting 48.9 percent overall but only 34.0 percent from 3-point range.
Lombardi thinks part of the problem comes when his team plays on a court that has the deeper 3-point line that will go into effect next season. The 3-point line, which at present is just shy of 20 feet, 1 inch, is moving to 22 feet, 1 1/2 inches next season. The change has already gone into effect in Division I, but it does not take effect in Division II and III until next season. However, some schools have already painted next year’s line on the court.
“We get messed up when we come to these courts with the white line 2 feet longer than the guys are used to, and they don’t have that kind of range,” Lombardi said. “I’m not sure how to correct it.”
IUP’s court at the KCAC does not have the deeper lines, so that shouldn’t be an issue Saturday night when California visits.
“We just treat it like every other game.” Miller said. “Every game is like a championship game to us because we know we’re going to get everybody’s best effort. So we’ll try to come prepared and watch film and work on things we did wrong tonight and just try to get better every step of the way.”